Kelly Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Gerrard Lucas Maxi
Early ecstasy ends with familiar agony.
Torres' seventh-minute strike should have sent Liverpool on its way to a fourth-successive league win, building on what was accomplished on Sunday. It looked possible within 180 seconds, when Lucas' 20-yard blast was well saved, and Liverpool's resident genius opened the scoring soon after, released by Gerrard's wonderful through-ball, controlling marvelously and toe-poking past Al-Habsi from the top of the box. But Liverpool almost instantly regressed, on the back foot and penned in their own half by the 20th minute, spelled only by a lovely counter-attack between Gerrard, Torres, and Kuyt, with the captain awkwardly volleying Kuyt's flick over the crossbar in the 16th.
From there, Wigan constantly threatened with fast-paced possession and dangerous crosses, almost always from Liverpool's left, where N'Zogbia and Stam routinely embarrassed Konchesky as Maxi typically drifted inside. The home side had the ball in the net in the 32nd, rightfully ruled out as Carragher cleverly stepped forward to play Rodallega offside after Lucas' horrendous giveaway. So much for the young Brazilian building on Sunday's masterclass, but it's not as if he was the only player who disappointed today.
And it didn't take long for Wigan to grab the deserved equalizer after the interval as play continued in the same vein, despite the entrance of Shelvey for Meireles. Stam again crossed following sustained possession, and Reina palmed the ball straight to the dangerous Colombian with Gomez lurking in wait at the back post. As in this fixture last March, Rodallega made no mistake.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Liverpool had little response. Both tactics and fitness are to blame, but seeing Poulsen brought on for Kuyt in the 73rd – after Kuyt had switched to the right in a 4-1-4-1 formation – raises the belief that the manager was satisfied with a draw; it reeked of protecting what little Liverpool had. As usual away from Anfield. It's this frustrating negativity against inferior opponents that overshadows what little progress actually has been made.
Despite the utter dross we were treated to for more than 70 minutes, Liverpool still could have taken all three points had Gerrard not cannoned off the crossbar on Liverpool's lone break, in the 79th. Eccleston replaced Maxi soon after – while Ngog (and Jovanovic) remained on the bench for the duration – but couldn't make the same impact as against Chelsea. On Sunday, his pace was an outlet to relieve pressure. Today, Liverpool needed substitutions that could create if they wanted to actually win. Which, again, begs the question as to whether that was the case.
Today was Exhibit A why teams rotate with three games in a week. It didn't demand a massive overhaul a la the Europa League, and the bench – Hansen, Shelvey, Spearing, Poulsen, Jovanovic, Eccleston, and Ngog – was admittedly thin. But the tank was clearly empty after Sunday's exertions, and Liverpool rarely looked like regaining a toe-hold or setting a positive tempo.
Make no mistake, fitness and depth partly led to Hodgson's tactics, but we've seen this no ambition nonsense time and time again in away matches. The contrast with Wigan's pressing and desire to run at defenders through N'Zogbia and Rodallega was painfully evident. Liverpool simply retreated once conceding possession, usually after hoofing out of defense in the general direction of an isolated Torres. If Gerrard and Torres – who have either scored or assisted each of Liverpool's league goals since the opening match at Arsenal – couldn't conjure something from nothing, it wasn't going to happen. And that's was the sole tactic in attack, which is hard to pull off when the other nine players are permanently ensconced in and around Liverpool's box.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this dross was still better than last season's trip to Wigan. A draw's massively disappointing, but I still probably would have taken four points from the last two matches if asked prior to Sunday's win. However, after this weekend's good feelings, and the false belief that a corner had finally been turned (it's déjà vu all over again), we're basically back to square one. And I'm back to criticizing the manager's small-team, small-minded tactics. Liverpool could have laid down a marker and moved up to 5th, three points behind 4th. But they're seemingly content to stay static in 9th.
Once again, Liverpool is not Fulham. These tactics may have suited an underdog role against the league leaders, but not a match against 18th-placed Wigan, even if it's at Wigan. And now, with all 11 starters even more fatigued, Liverpool face a tough trip to Stoke in three days time, a venue where they haven't won since the Potters were promoted.